Rorschach creation

ror2Kudos to our good friend Chad for a recent question that inspired these thoughts.

Rorschach, a Swiss psychologist, developed his inkblot test to study a person’s psychological/emotional health. It’s a projective (not an objective) test; that is, you’re show abstract inkblot images that have substantial form to them but which are sufficiently ambiguous. The mind wants to fill in the gaps and resolve the ambiguity and interpret the image definitively as a ‘this’ or a ‘that’. How an individual fills in the blanks reveals that individual, for we each project ourselves in our interpretation of things. What you see reflects as much your own state of mind as it does what’s on the card. I previously appropriated the Rorschach inkblot test as an analogy for thinking about how we ought to read the Bible.

Chad asked whether the Rorschach test might be an analogy also for what the universe itself is, how it works, as created and given to us by God as a context for the emergence of mind and personal existence. I think it’s a helpful analogy, if we take the dynamics involved in the Rorschach test suggest that creation (the cosmos in its entirety as a Rorschach image) is inherently ambiguous; it presents us with questions, a stage upon which we shape and determine ourselves. Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of existence? We project our internal struggles against the backdrop of all the world throws at us, and humanity appears to be alone in its capacity to contemplate the meaning and purpose of the whole.

Existence imposes itself upon as a desire or drive for meaning, as questions begging to be answered. And over time we become the answers we offer in acts of interpretation. But not just any act of interpretation will do, because there are despairing/violent interpretive acts that are mis-interpretations. Is there an act of interpretation sufficient to resolve the whole Rorschach image of human existence into a unified, meaningful composition? This, Christians claim, is what God accomplishes in Christ. Christ takes the human journey, assuming the entirety of our interpretive embeddedness in the universe, and he interprets creation successfully (non-violently, lovingly, in unfailing love of and submission to God, including our suffering, etc.). He then offers his own humanity as an interpretive act (as logos, as a peaceful-pacific divine-human rhetoric) in whose completeness all may resolve themselves peacefully. Christ embodies humanity’s Rorschach ambiguities and with them resolves creation into its final and peaceful way of being.

To my mind, this is another way of expressing what the Orthodox describe when they talk about the Eighth Day of Creation, the idea being that creation isn’t really created, hasn’t finally arrived at its creative potential, until its meaning is universally resolved through the free acts of participation by all sentient beings in the one definitive and universal act of creative interpretation which is Christ himself. Divine incarnation into human being is thus God personally submitting himself to a Rorschach test (where the ink blot isn’t just a card but is phenomenal experience itself, the whole range of human existence from conception to the grave), comprehending the whole on an existential scale universal enough to resolve its inherent ambiguities, so that those who make Christ’s pattern of perceiving and meaning-making their own live in its life-giving power.

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“Inasmuch as”: impartation & participation

SRI LANKA-ATTACKSPredictably,  the attacks upon Sri Lankan Christians while they worshiped last Easter Sunday (both pictures in this post are of shrapnel-ridden, blood-stained statues from those attacks) have again brought front and center conversations about God’s goodness in our world. Tell us again exactly how it is God is perfectly and unfailingly benevolent and powerful in a world awash in such evil (natural and moral)? Each tragedy sees the same debate points posted and argued. With every renewal of this discussion it seems there are some from the ranks of every view on offer who defect to some other viewpoint. I’m not here to review the options or argue for a benevolent theism. Instead, I’d like to try to express an aspect of my own faith journey. Atheists, you’re excused for the time being. This is ‘siblings talk’ for the moment.

As I say, all I want to offer here is a description of how these attacks got me and Dwayne into considering as aspect of the Christian story and experience that I hadn’t previously contemplated. As Dwayne and I recently talked through these issues something dawned on me.

Let me begin a couple of curious passage that describe the intimacy of Christ’s identification with those who suffer. In Mt 25.31-46 (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats), Jesus bases God’s eschatological judgment of us on the loving service we render to the destitute (i.e., the hungry, the poor and the homeless, the sick and the imprisoned). You know the conclusion: “Inasmuch as” we provide food, clothing, care, etc., to the destitute and imprisoned, we “do it to Christ.” And equally, inasmuch as we do not care for the poor and needy, we do not care for Christ. In loving and caring for those in need, we love and care for Christ – actually, personally, really.

The same identification is behind Paul’s admonition (Col 3.23-24) that Christians do all they do “as unto the Lord,” and here Paul surprisingly adds “not unto men.” Not unto others? Surely we do unto others what we actually do unto them, even if Christ is also therein served (or not). But the adversative “not unto men” turns the tables on our priorities and the direction from which we view things. It is Christ who is first served or not, and others are therein implicated. Christ is the truer, more significant object of our intentions and actions than are others who are by virtue of Christ implicated in our actions. But who views themselves and the world this way?

This relating to Christ as the object of our actions (good or bad) is evident in Christ’s confrontation with Paul in his conversion experience (Acts 9). The risen Christ appears to Paul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” and declares “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This is not unlike the Matthew 25 passage. The risen Christ identifies with his body – those who follow him (in Acts 9), but equally, even if more broadly, he identifies with all poor, all needy, and not, as some mistakenly read it, “poor Christians” (but not poor Muslims), or for dispensationalists (if there are any left) “poor Jews.” Does Jesus participate in the innocent suffering of the world? It would seem so. He is more truly present as the object of our actions than the poor and needy we perceive. This shouldn’t surprise us. Christ is, after all, more truly present in every sense than any person allows him/herself to be present. He is present fully/completely, without diminishment of intention or perception due to selfishness or compromise. None of us is able to ‘show up’ so genuinely and unreservedly. In this way, our suffering becomes his own. But faith opens our eyes to this  presence and opens it to our participation.

This brings me to the second set of curious passages. If the first set of passages describes the sense in which Christ is present in our suffering by virtue of his own participation in the innocent suffering of the world he loves and sustains, the second describes the sense in which our suffering becomes a transforming-redemptive participation in his own historical suffering. I’ve commented on these passages here and here, but let me quickly mention them. First, in Phil 3.8-11 Paul views the Cross as participable, as sufferings we are able to share in. Paul’s desire to “participate in Christ’s suffering, becoming like him in his death.” Secondly, in Col 1.24 Paul views his own suffering as “filling up in his flesh what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings,” a very curious perspective, but incomprehensible as participation if the Cross be understood in penal-substitutionary terms. Then in Rom 6.3-5 Paul again views the Cross as participable, and lastly in Heb 13.13 we are instructed to “go to Christ outside the city, bearing the disgrace he bore” which, whatever else it may be, invites us to participate in Christ’s sufferings. Participation, not substitution, is the transforming logic of the Cross.

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I’d like to suggest that these two realities (Christ present in our sufferings, on the one hand, and our presence in his, on the other) form a single, transforming-redemptive unity – an asymmetrical relational unity which is itself the saving power of the Cross. We participate in the sufferings of the Cross by intentionally introducing the narrative of the Cross into our own meaning-making structure. This brings both the guilt and despair of sinners and the true nature of innocent suffering to light for transformational meaning-making as each receives its truth from Christ’s suffering. For the latter (the innocent victims) in this case, how Christ suffers becomes how we see ourselves as suffering, and so how the Father was with Christ in his sufferings (Jn 16.31-33) becomes how God is present with us in our suffering. It’s a relational unity because two subjects (Christ and us) are intimately related, so much so that both are objects of the same victimization. But the relationship is asymmetrical because one subject’s experience (Christ’s) alone has the power to define and transform the experience of those who interpret their suffering within the (transcendent) framework of meaning-making established by and offered to all in Christ.

However, participation in Christ’s sufferings defines not only how we self-perceive within our suffering (as essential as that is), it defines how we perceive and respond to others who persecute and victimize, i.e. forgiveness. Forgiveness is a necessary fruit of participation in Christ’s sufferings, and we have not participated in his sufferings until we, like him, extend forgiveness to our persecutors. It’s not enough to know I suffer innocently and to come to possess in Christ an enduring identity that no worldly suffering can deconstruct. What is this new identity if it is as unforgiving as the old? To participate in Christ’s sufferings is to be given his suffering as a place in which to experience my own, to suffer inside of his suffering, and what can this be but to suffer as he suffers, i.e. for others, in love, and to know that every victimizer is forgiven within the very event that establishes my own freedom from the victimizer. I am free from him and united to him at once, in Christ. So to not forgive is to have misrelated myself to Christ, and so to have failed to participate fully in his sufferings.

Of course, none of this is possible if one views the Cross in either penal-substitutionary terms (God pouring out our wrath-as-punishment upon Jesus) or in terms of God abandoning us existentially to suffer the consequences of sin as despair and godforsakenness (viz., Boyd’s view), for neither of these perspectives on Christ’s sufferings invites us to participate in the Christ’s sufferings. Both write us out of participation in the Cross, and to that extent they deliver not good news, but the worst news of all.

Darkness reflected in the mirror

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It is not without some hesitation that I share my recent struggles. Don’t panic for me when you read this. I’m not crying out for help, and I’m in no danger – not any danger you aren’t in as well without knowing it. I want to try to make something of my journey available to others in a more personal, less 3rd person way. It’s easy to post the joyful moments, or to discuss the meaning of this or that doctrine or philosophical claim. It’s harder to climb up on the examination table and invite others to observe whatever sickness is working in you.

I have written a bit about the Void (here, here, and here). I’ll leave you to check those out if you wish. I don’t mean to sound like Morpheus, but the Void is everywhere. It’s all around you. It’s every place and occasion where we are confronted by the truth of our nothingness. Anyone can perceive it. It does not take an act of faith to see and experience it. It takes an act of faith to transcend it, and not everyone succeeds at transcending it. The Void is our absolute ontological poverty, and any experience can be an entry point into its realization.

Forgive me if I’m unable to narrate it for you, but in recent months the Void has been my new ‘internal’ address, its gaping maw beneath me like a spectral Dementor consuming every thought. The Void is existential bankruptcy, a foreclosure upon life’s promises from the inside out, where the difference between life and death is nominal and the two words name the same emptiness. I’ve been in dark places before, but always in sight of life’s light at the entrance of the cave, a light that illuminated the Void’s insides. The Void imposed itself from without. Now it emerged from within me. I want to call it a ‘presence’, but it’s more like the presence of absence, on the inside. Its depths immeasurable. Its appetite insatiable. Its silence absolute. The will to live evaporates.

Not long ago, unable to sleep, I rose and went to the living room sofa. I don’t how long I laid there praying the Jesus Prayer. Crying out Groping for a reason to wish the world’s continuing existence, or mine in it. Hours perhaps. But they were empty words without any apparent effect. I went between the Jesus Prayer and repeating “I know my Father loves me” over and over, just out of habit. I don’t know if I was dreaming or I was just awake but lost in the darkness of the experience. I was suspended in pure darkness, utterly alone. I was embodied but couldn’t make out my own limbs. All I did was repeat the Jesus Prayer.

At some point the faintest light appeared at a great distance. I gravitated toward it. As I approached it, it took the shape of the Cross. When I say it was a light, I don’t mean it emanated its own light. Its light was different. As I got up to it, I saw it was simply a mirror, a cross-shaped mirror. It had no thickness at all. It was pure surface, in the shape of the Cross. I could make out the darkness all around it still. But there the cross-shaped mirror remained in front of me. I couldn’t look behind it, and I couldn’t turn my back on it. As I turned to move in a different direction, it maintained its position in front of me.

More amazingly, it was a mirror that reflected where I was. When I looked at it I saw myself and my surroundings reflected. To look at it was not to look through it or into it. Rather, it was to see all else by means of it. All I saw in it was myself and my surroundings. “But how’s a mirror reflect anything in the dark? That’s not possible.” Obviously. Stand in front your bathroom mirror at night and turn the light now. You see nothing. This was like that, except with the lights out the mirror still reflected clearly, perceivably, all that was there. “I’m in complete darkness here. I can’t touch anything and I’m not touched by anything. There is nothing in this Void with me. So whence the reflection?” But as I looked at this mirror, my own reflection and the reflection of the entirety of the space I was in became clearly perceivable, and what I saw was a beautiful, sunny day. Blue skies above, the birds I visit every day in my backyard, my garden flowers, my favorite chair, and a healthy looking me, a contented me, staring back from the reflection. It was my reflection to be sure, not a vision of me somewhere else, for if I moved, or raised my right hand, or stepped back or forward – all my movements were perfectly reflected in the mirror. But none of the despair of life I felt was in my reflected face that I viewed. If I looked slightly left or right of the mirror – all was a consuming blackness. The only thing to see, and the only way to see it, was to stare at the cross-shaped mirror. There was no viewing the world around me directly. Things were only perceivable when perceived indirectly as reflected in the Cross. So the light that came from the Cross which I saw from a distance was the sunlight of my own surroundings reflected in the Cross. The Cross was just telling me what was there.

This is the opposite of how we typically view the Cross. We can easily imagine our surrounding world with us, nature, and other people all fully present as our lived experience. Then we plant the Cross over top this vision, and it’s the Cross in this context that is a black and ugly thing, a cross-shaped horror which, you might say, introduces the Void into the real world. In this case you can get a moment’s distraction from the horror of the Cross by looking away to the real world around. My experience in the Void through this night was the opposite. My body, and the whole world I was apparently in, were a horror of darkness, a consuming Void, on their own, and it was the Cross that brought the world to light and relation.

I apparently fell asleep or into a deeper sleep at this point and woke up in the morning.

Infinite resignation

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Still meandering about in Christopher Ben Simpson’s introduction to Kierkegaard, that genius of a Christian (Kierkegaard that is).

In 1972 Hal Lindsey (still alive today at 89) wrote Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, having published two years earlier The Late, Great Planet Earth which the NY Times called the No. 1 non-fiction of the decade. It’s hard to over-emphasize how big a deal Lindsey and these two books where in the 70’s. I cut my teeth as a new believer on Lindsey, and I remember first running across the name of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (SK) in Lindsey’s Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Lindsey argued there that SK (the “third bomb” after Kant and Hegel) was evidence that Satan was alive and well. Kierkegaard’s writings, he claimed, were “contrary to biblical principles,” were a “denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith,” and they “launched a system of though in which despair was the underlying current.” Lindsey explained that one finds purpose in life by taking a leap which “has no rationality behind it at all” and suggested that SK introduced Hegel’s thoughts into the stream of Christian thought (not true, SK deplored Hegel). In the end SK’s account of the Christian faith amounted to “the doctrines of demons.” It’s no surprise that my first thoughts of SK were negative. SK was an evil enemy of Christianity.

Time corrects some mistakes, thankfully, and I’m only mentioning Lindsey as the context in which I first read the name of Kierkegaard whose account of Christianity is genius. In one, two, or five hundred years from now people will be still reading and discussing SK who will still be rescuing the faith of the truly hungry from the cheap subterfuge that Lindsey, whose writings no one will know in two or five hundred years, got famous selling.

Here’s a third and final clip from Simpson’s summary of SK. Enjoy!

For Kierkegaard, one relates to God as the eternal, transcendent other in faith. Our subjectively being true to our relationship with the transcendent God is to see him as ‘the eternal being, who is the object of faith (FT 51). The eternal, the absolute, is always ‘an occasion for offense’ for finite humans and our relation to the eternal God happens in the ‘supreme passion’ and ‘divine madness’ of faith (in the first movement of the double-movement of faith), we are faced with an ‘either/or’ decision to choose God over the finite, either to be devoted to God or to despise him, to seek God’s kingdom first, for ‘the person who does not seek God’s kingdom first is not seeking it at all’ (LFBA 19-22; MLW 233-6). This is faith difficult beginning, its leap – as dying to or ‘losing the temporal temporally’ in order to gain or grasp the eternal (UDVS 209; CD 72; 141-2). The resolution of faith – as the only way ‘in which God will involve himself with a human being’ – ‘joins a person with the eternal (EUD 347; TDIO 63). It is the relation to the eternal God in faith that then (in the second movement of faith) comes to structure and orient one’s existence in finitude, ‘express[ing] the sublime in the pedestrian’ (FT 41). Faith – as constantly, daily being acquired and repeated – works to join all of one’s life together with the eternal and so establish a continuity, a constancy in life given stability with the ballast of the unconditional (EUD 14; CUP 55, 535; SUD 105; PoV 19-2). The eternal grounds repetition. At the same time, as in the process of becoming, we encounter the eternal with fear and trembling; faith so challenges all our relative stabilities – as Anti-Climacus writes, ‘fear and trembling signify that there is a God – something every human being and every established order ought not to forget for a moment’ (PIC 88).

sk5We are lovingly created (as good, glorious, free) and sustained (in God’s presence) by God. We live as if this is true – we are religious – when we gratefully affirm and strive to be what we are created to be. We should relate to ourselves as we are in relation to God. In that we, for Kierkegaard, as human beings are created by God, this understanding should affect our self-understanding; it should found our way of existing (EUD 32; CUP 249). When one comes to understand and to choose oneself in God – ‘when’, as Judge Vilhelm writes, ‘in an eternal and unfailing sense one become aware of oneself as the person one is’ – ‘one receives oneself’ (EO 509). This is to choose oneself, to take possession of oneself, ‘in one’s eternal validity’ (EO 515). In this process – in which ‘it is as if his self is outside him and is to be taken possession of’ – a person comes ‘to relate himself to himself in his religious idea’ (EO 519; SLW 428). In choosing oneself as originated – in relation to ‘the originality that was his eternal source’ (CUP 153; EO 518) – one seeks to attain a ‘religious transparency’ in which ‘he has seen his self over against the eternal power, whose fire has permeated it without consuming it (SLW 428; EO 529). One ‘rests transparently in God’, in the changelessness of God’s love (SUD 30; UDVS 212; MLW 278). This transparency is a sober coming to oneself, to be oneself before God (UDVS 137; SUD 5; LFBA 17)…

God is the good that we desire, that we love, that we long to be in communion with in blessedness. We are true to this in our loving God – in our passionate concern, our worship, and our obedience. The God-relationship, for Kierkegaard, is a relating to God with an infinite passion – its ‘how’ is ‘the passion of the infinite’ (CUP 203). Having gone through infinite resignation (in the double-movement of faith), one is assured that what one relates to in truly infinite passion, in a desire for one’s eternal end beyond finite, is God (CUP 201). ‘The inspecting resignation’, Climacus writes, ‘discovers no irregularity, this shows that the individual at the time of inspection is relating himself to an eternal happiness’ (CUP 395). Such is the intimate connection between the form and content of religiousness – that ‘the person who in truth will only one thing can only will the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he will the good can will only the good in truth’ (UDVS 24). God is one’s eternal end, and so the God-relation at once ‘consists precisely in being religiously, infinitely concerned about oneself’ (CUP 200; SLW 486). One desires God as one’s own eternal happiness. One’s ‘eternal happiness’ is the ‘highest telos’ that is ‘willed for its own sake’ in ‘the moment of resignation, of collecting oneself, of choice’ (CUP 394, 400). Religiousness, for Kierkegaard, is for a person so ‘to relate himself with pathos to an eternal happiness’ – ‘simultaneously to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos and relatively to the relative ends’ – that his existence is transformed (CUP 393, 414). Kierkegaard describes this religious ‘pathos-filled transformation of existence’ as a ‘humble, obedient enthusiasm’, as ‘be[ing] shaken’, as being ‘infinitely, unconditionally engaged’ before God (CUP 581; UDVS 62; BoA 112-13; JFY 104). Yet this strenuous, passionate engagement brings ‘a tranquility and a restfulness’ for there is ‘no contradiction…to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos’ – in doing so one is acting in accord with reality, for God is the end of human being. To relate oneself absolutely to God is ‘the absolute reciprocity in like for like’, while it is ‘demented…for a being who is eternally structured to apply all his power to grasp the perishable’ (CUP 422). One God comports with our infinite passion….

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BoA The Book of Adler
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
LFBA The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air
PIC Practice in Christianity
PoV The Point of View
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

Danish pastry anyone?

skA second passage (after the first) from Christopher Ben Simpson’s The Way is the Truth: Kierkegaard’s Theologia Viatorum. It’s a great introduction to Kierkegaard’s vision. When it comes to understanding what faith is and what it means to integrate (“appropriate” is Kierkegaard’s word) the truth of the gospel into and as one’s very life, the nature of the obstacles that must be faced and the costs involved, Kierkegaard captures things best for us.

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Objective and Subjective Truth
The problem with what Kierkegaard calls ‘objectivity’ or ‘objective truth’ in relation to being a Christian is that it shifts the ‘medium’ from ‘existence and the ethical to the intellectual, the metaphysical, the imaginational’ (PoV 130). In making Christianity a matter of intellectual reflection, of abstract imagination, ‘a more or less theatrical relationship has been introduced between thinking Christianity and being a Christian’ (PoV 130). The problem with the ‘objective’ approach to the truth of Christianity is that it ignores existence in favour of something that happens on the level of reflection alone ‘as if having thought about something were identical with existing’, and so committing the error ‘that by coming to know objectively what Christianity is…one becomes a Christian’ 9CUP 253, 570, 577). The problem with ‘objectivity’ is that, in its abstraction and so isolation from existence, it is not in touch with actuality, not in relation to truth (EO 542). The reality that it has lost contact with is that of the existing person. Objectivity is a truth that ‘goes away from the subject’ (CUP 193) – a truth that is impersonal and indifferent: ‘indifferent to the individual’s particular condition…indifferent to its relation to him…indifferent to how the individual receives it…indifferent to whether the truth becomes a blessing or a ruination to him’ (FSE 39; EUD 233-4). A Christianity built around such ‘objective’ truth is a ‘professorial-scholarly Christianity’ in which ‘the professor is the truth Christian’ (JFY 195); the problem is ‘not that what they say is an untruth, since they say what is true, but that true statement has no truth in them’ (UDVS 325) – they are ‘rich in truths and poor in virtues’ (EUD 350). When truth becomes ‘objective’, what is lost is the relation between the existing subject and what is seen to be true – the appropriation – ‘how an existing subject in concreto relates himself to the truth’ (CUP 75, 192-3)…

Subjective truth is a being in relation to, being involved in, the truth. ‘The relation of the subject’, Climacus writes, ‘is precisely the knotty difficulty’ (CUP 37). The subjective, for Kierkegaard, is the personal, is related ‘to a person present’ (FSE 39; UDVS 11). ‘Personal consciousness’, he writes, ‘requires that in my knowledge I also have knowledge of myself and my relation to my knowledge’ (CD 194). Central to this personal involvement is one’s decisions, one’s choices. Choice is, as Judge Vilhelm states, ‘decisive for a personality’s content’ (EO 482). An understanding of truth that includes decision as a necessary component is ‘subjective’, for ‘all decision is rooted in subjectivity’ and ‘only in subjectivity is there decision’ (CUP 33, 129, 203). In resolution one re-engages with actuality (after reflection). The choices one makes in relating to and engaging with the world constitute who one is as a person. Subjective truth is choosing to be in relation to what is. This implies that choosing rightly matters – that the content of the choice matters – for one’s life (EO 483). As deciding, choosing, actively relating to the world (to oneself, to others, to God) the thinking subject is involved in an ongoing process of existence as a continual striving (CUP 91-2)…

What Kierkegaard advocates is a movement from the ‘objective’ to the ‘subjective’, from reflection to resolution, from abstraction to action. One of Kierkegaard’s characteristic ways of describing this movement…is as appropriation. Appropriation is the movement of incarnating a truth that is not initially your own. It is a receiving that, as a genuine receiving, is a producing; appropriation…is literally: making something one’s own (CUP 21). In appropriation, a thesis, an objective truth to be known, becomes a task – ‘something quite different from knowing’ (CUP 297; JC 131) – or rather, the ethical and religious ‘theses’ are given their proper existential resonance as something more than propositions to be affirmed (JC 152-3). Subjective truth is then ‘the truth of appropriation’ where focus is brought upon ‘the subject’s acceptance of it’ such that, as Climacus famously writes, ‘when subjectivity is truth…a definition of truth [would then be this]: An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person’ (CUP 21, 129, 203)…

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Christianity, Christian truth, is at the end of a trajectory that begins with subjective truth and ascends and focuses in ethical and religious truth. Given ‘that subjectivity, inwardness, is truth’, Climacus writes that this ‘at its maximum is Christianity’ (CUP 279). If ‘subjectivity is truth and subjectivity is the existing subjectivity, then, if I may put it this way, Christianity is a perfect fit’ (CUP 230). To truly exist humanly is to exist religiously, and to truly exist religiously is to exist Christianly (CUP 249)…Truth, then, as transcendent, as revealed, should be expected as something transcendent, as something from above challenging and frustrating our merely immanent categories here below, as something paradoxical. The trajectory does not lead to paradox or absurdity as such, to nonsense – as if one’s ‘subjective’ passion and earnestness is all that matters – ‘as a beatifying universal balm’. The trajectory points to a particular paradox…

Johannes Climacus writes in the Postscript: ‘The paradox came into existence through the relating of the eternal, essential truth to the existing person. Let us go further; let us assume that the eternal essential truth is itself a paradox’ (CUP 209). At the heart of Christianity is the paradox that ‘the eternal, essential truth…has come into existence in time’ (CUP 213). Christianity claims to present the eternal truth of human life – the truth of what we are and what we are to be – but this, Climacus writes, ‘is not an eternal truth in the sense of a mathematical or ontological theorem’; rather ‘Christianity is the paradoxical truth; it is the paradox that the eternal one came into existence in time’ – ‘the difficulty and the paradox are that it is actual’ (CUP 580; BoA 37).

This eternal truth come into existence is Christ – ‘Christ’s life upon earth, every moment of this life, was truth’ (PIC 203)…If Christ is this truth, the highest truth that is Christianity, is existing in the reality revealed in Christ. True human being, as living in community with God, with others, and with oneself, is a life ‘defined’ by Christ; it is the life of a disciple, an imitator of Christ…

Climacus presents the Christian way, Christian subjectivity as singular. ‘The appropriation by which a Christian is Christian’, he writes, ‘must be so specific that it cannot be confused with anything else (CUP 609); it is a ‘paradoxical inwardness that is specifically different from all other inwardness’ (CUP 610). The Christian way is based on Christ. Climacus holds that Christianity as paradoxical-religiousness is so unique that one, ‘just by describing the “how” of his inwardness can indirectly indicate that he is a Christian without mentioning Christ’s name’ for ‘this’ “how” fits only one object’ (CUP 613-14)…

And essential part of the particularly Christian understanding of truth for Kierkegaard – that the truth is ‘transcendent’, that it comes to us, from beyond us, in Christ – is our state as untruth. Untruth, for Kierkegaard, is the ordinary state for humans, is the ‘preceding state’ (EO 599; PF 13-14). While, for Christianity, subjectivity is truth, our subjectivity ‘at first’ is untruth (CUP 213)—that subjectivity is truth, Climacus states, ‘begins in which way: “Subjectivity is untruth”’ (CUP 207). This untruth is a state of isolation or estrangement – of not being in community, in communion with reality – ‘inclosed’ in one’s own false world, at a ‘painful distance from the truth’ (CA 128; CUP 269). One is self-deceived, not relating to what one is and the way things are as one is and as the way things are, in actuality (TDIO 35). One despairingly misrelates to the self either being tricked out of the self by becoming a finite thing bound to necessity without possibility of freedom (SUD 33) or by becoming something ‘fantastic’ (SUD 31), ‘a mirage’ (SUD 36) of infinite possibilities – lacking, not being constrained by actuality and so becoming unreal (SUD 35). This untruth is a despair, an unhappiness, that can manifest itself in a sense of disjunction, a sense that something is wrong with oneself. This despairing untruth, as Kierkegaard’s later pseudonym Anti-Climacus describes it in The Sickness Unto Death, is not willing to be the self that one is – or (what amounts to the same thing) willing to be a self one is not (SUD 52-3). This misrelation to the self is also a misrelation to God insofar as the self is fundamentally related to God – the self ‘is’ a set of relations with the relation to God being the most fundamental, as the power that establishes the self—as the one that made the self as it is an against which one rebels in rejecting oneself (SUD 60). The state of untruth is a loss of this God-relationship. As Climacus writes: ‘It is really the God-relationship that makes a human being into a human being, but this is what he would lack’ (CUP 244). It is being in a state of sin, or rebellion, of mutiny against God (CUP 208) – even to the extreme of the most self-conscious and willful misrelation to oneself in ‘demonic despair’ that, ‘in hatred toward existence…wills to be itself, wills to be itself in accordance with its misery (SUD 73).

skstampTruth for Kierkegaard is a matter of being true to one’s being. The self has a reality that is independent of one’s thoughts and desires – ‘the self he is is a very definite something’, writes Anti-Climacus, ‘it remains itself from first to last;…it becomes neither more nor less than itself’ (SUD 36, 69). There is something that is ‘the original text of individual human existence-relationships, the old familiar text handed down from the fathers’ (CUP 629-30). One can either affirm and enter into one’s nature, one’s actuality or deny it. Truth is a matter of being (becoming) true to the actuality, that one is, ‘the only actuality there is for an existing person’ (CUP 316). Because there is a reality to the self there is a standard for a proper relation to oneself. Thus Climacus writes: ‘That subjectivity, inwardness, is truth…but, please note, not every inwardness’ (CUP 282-3). One becomes true, becomes more fully actual, when one exists in relation to what one is. One’s being, one’s actuality, is that of an active relation, an ‘existing in’, and interestedness – a being-between, ‘an inter-esse’ (CUP 340, 314). ‘Subjectivity is truth; subjectivity is actuality’ when one subjectively lives in accord with (one enters into the actuality of) one’s actuality as a subject – which is itself a being-in-relation—and so becomes subjective, actual, true (CUP 343)…

The self, for Kierkegaard…is ‘a relation that relates itself to itself’ (SUD 13). As such, it is, among other things, a synthesis of the necessary and the possible. Anti-Climacus writes: ‘Insofar as it is itself, it is the necessary, and insofar as it has the task of becoming itself, it is a possibility’ (SUD 35). The necessary is the reality of the self, that cannot be otherwise – ‘the self he is is a very definite something, and thus the necessary’ (SUD 36). The necessary aspect of the self is ‘that place’ (SUD 36) that one is in which one becomes – chooses to relate to the self – possibly rightly, possibly wrongly. The possible is one’s possible relation to one’s necessary reality. With one’s reflective consciousness (with the ‘mirror of possibility’), one has freedom with regard to how one relates to oneself (SUD 37). Thus, one can ‘become lost in possibility’ (SUD 37) – one can conceive of and relate to oneself as other than one is (e.g. not in a fundamental relationship with God as one’s origin and end). The proper (possible) relation to one’s (necessary) self, the true relation is that of ‘taking possibility back into necessity’ – living as (for one could live otherwise) what one is – of ‘submit[ting] to the necessity in one’s life’, for this is what enables one to become a ‘concrete’ and actual self (as opposed to an unreal/illusory one) (SUD 36-7). By choosing the possible way of existing that is in accord with our necessary being, one becomes actual – thus, as Anti-Climacus writes, actuality is the unity of possibility and necessity’ (SUD 36)…

Kierkegaard sees the more profound ‘truth’ of human existence as a correspondence between one’s existing and one’s being – between one’s existence and one’s essence, perhaps (CUP 190-3). Truth is an honest – in ‘that your life expresses what you say’ (CD 167). It is a process of becoming sober – as Kierkegaard writes, ‘to come so close to oneself in one’s understanding , in one’s knowing, that all one’s understanding becomes action‘ (JFY 115). ‘Christianly understood’, the goal is ‘to be the truth’ – and this is achieved when the truth ‘becomes a life in me’ (PIC 205-6). The truth is incarnated in the way one lives. Bringing all of this together powerfully, Anti-Climacus writes that ‘to be the truth is the only true explanation of what truth is’ (PIC 205). I quote at length:

The being of truth is not the  direct redoubling of being in relation to thinking, which gives only thought-being, safeguards thinking against being a brain-figment that is not, guarantees validity to thinking, that what is thought it – that is, has validity. No, the being of truth is the redoubling of truth within yourself, within me, within him, that your life, my life, his life expresses he truth approximately in the striving for it, that your life, my life, his life is approximately the being of the truth in the striving for for it, just as the truth was in Christ a life, for he was the truth. (PIC 205)

This lived truth is its own best demonstration. Kierkegaard writes that ‘the highest a person is capable of is to make an eternal truth true, to make it true that it is true – by doing it, by being oneself the demonstration, by a life that perhaps will also be able to convince others’ (CD 98). Those who seek to show that Christianity is true in a purely intellectual manner are ‘busy in a strange way in the wrong place’ (CD 189) – for Christianity is to be true in life and should be shown forth as such, much in the  way that ‘the resolution of marriage is its own best recommendation’ (SLW 156). Christian ‘being true’ is a making manifest, a concrete showing, of the truth of Christianity in life.

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CA The Concept of Anxiety
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FSE For Self-Examination
JFY Judge for Yourself!
PoV The Point of View
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

Not that Fear and Trembling

ftFrom Christopher Ben Simpson’s The Way is the Truth: Kierkegaard’s Theologia Viatorum, a summary of Kiekegaard’s thought. I’ve removed the Danish equivalents for certain words but kept his references (cf. the key at the end).

Religious Faith: The Double-Movement
Religious faith, for Kierkegaard, has the structure of a double-movement. This, as we have seen, is reflected in Kierkegaard’s mode of communication (PoV 6-9). The general schedule is one of a redoubling in which a given position ‘is first of all its opposite (JFY 98). There is first the negative then the positive, first renouncing and then receiving, first emptying and then filling, first death and then life.

The first moment, the first movement of the double-movement of faith, is a negative one – an initial ‘wounding’ that has, nevertheless, a constructive end (TDIO 9; EUD 130; UDVS 279). Throughout his authorship, Kierkegaard names this first negative moment, the ‘first element’ of faith, as ‘despair’ (CUP 225-6; SUD 78, 116). Despair, strangely, is a way forward – ‘a man’ true salvation’ – ‘a hidden trapdoor – to ascent’ (EO 522; CD 114). This first, negative movement is also described as ‘infinite resignation’ (FT 36-8, 46), such that one has ‘resigned everything infinitely’ (FT 40). This infinite resignation is the ‘movement of infinity’ whereby one negates, resigns, gives up the finite such that one is left with the infinite (FT 38) – whereby one ‘practic[es] the absolute relation or infinite through renunciation…of relative ends’ (CUP 431-2). Despair or infinite resignation is a benefit in that with them one renounces, abandons, gives up the finite, the lower, in favour of the infinite, for the higher (FT 18, 48) – one ‘renounce[s] the whole temporal realm in order to gain eternity’ (FT 49) – one turns from Mammon to seek first the kingdom of God. With this, one gives up on all finite possibility. It is a ‘dying to’ – a ‘middle term’ in which one ‘die[s] to the world’, ‘’breaking…with that which he naturally has his life’ – and so has ‘emptied himself in the infinite (FSE 76; JFY 98; MLW 177, 214; FT 69). This renunciation, this despair extends to the whole personality (EO 515) – surrendering, losing, even hating the self (EO 522; SUD 67; MLW 335) – wresting away self-love in a movement of repentance that dies to the self and to the world (WL 17; FT 99, 101).

In all of the negation and giving up and ‘dying to’ of infinite resignation, one ends up affirming or choosing one thing: oneself ‘in one’s eternal validity’ as having an ‘eternal consciousness’ – as being in relation to the infinite, the eternal – as loving God alone (EO 515, 520; FT 46). After one renounces all that is finite one is left with God, with oneself before God – even if before God one is always in the wrong – even if in loving him one is nothing before him (EO 601-6; R 212). For such a one has renounced even being in the right; God is their only desire.

For Kierkegaard, the second movement of religious faith is that of ‘faith’. ‘Only when he individual has emptied himself in the infinite’, Johannes de Silentio writes, ‘only then has the point been reached where faith can break through’ (FT 69). After the either/or decision of infinite resignation – choosing the higher and dying to the lower – faith then returns to the lower, for ‘it is great to give up one’s desire, but it is greater to hold fast to it after having given it up; it is great to lay hold of the eternal, ,but it is greater to hold fast to the temporal after having given it up’ (FT 18). In the double-movement of faith one resigns the lower for the higher (in infinite resignation) and then regains the lower (in ‘faith’) – this is because the lower is nothing without the higher, for the lower only is in relation to the higher – one rightly renounces it as nothing (on its own, as self-existing) in the first movement.

the-scream

This winning back of the finite that was lost and dead happens, as Johannes de Silentio (alone among the pseudonyms) writes, ‘by virtue of the absurd’ (FT 36, 40, 46-7, 115). This mans that faith makes an affirmation in the midst of despair – when there is no human possibility. It believes (notice de Silentio’s gloss) ‘by virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the fact that for God all things are possible’ (FT 46). For, as Constantius writes, ‘when every thinkable human certainty and probability were impossible [and] from the point of view of immediacy, everything is lost’ one can come into relation to something other than the human frame of possibility, probability, certainty ‘thunderstorm’ (R 212). So are the movements of faith the ‘movements of finitude’ (FT 38) in which one comes to receive, to regain (as a ‘repetition’) the finite – to ‘receive everything’ (FT 49), ‘to grasp the whole temporal realm’ (FT 49), to affirm temporal actuality as divine gift. Faith (re)gains ‘everything’, the finite ‘whole and intact’ (CD 146; FT 37) – more fully whole and intact than before in the light of its divine origin – including one’s self ‘whole in every respect’ (CA 106) – regains these as a ‘new creation’ (FT 40).

With the second movement of religious faith, there is a teleological suspension – suspending one’s bonds to the lower and being suspended from the higher (as an inverted foundation, like a suspension bridge). As such a double-movement (negative and then positive) ordered to an end, faith is a foresight than anticipates an arrival, a joyous sight, a fuller understanding that is to come (FT 21, 52, 65). One lives, with divine assistance, in the light of a right relation to God and to oneself (MLW 215). In faith, the self ‘rests transparently’ in God (SUD 30, 49) and has learned ‘the proper self-love’ (WL 18). This life is one of security, comfort, harmony and joy (FT 40, 50; EUD 330).

As seen in the second movement above, the higher from the perspective of the lower is seen as absurd. Faith can only be thought, be understood, on the higher plane, in a theological frame. It is seen as ‘absurd’ because it does not fit within the comprehensive frame of the lower sphere – this is a signal that either I am right and this is wrong (the absurd if false) or I am wrong (my perspective is false). The one in the lower must endure the difficult, te trial, the either/or, the ‘absurd’ to attain the higher (and regain the lower) (FT 27). The lower (without faith) cannot understand the higher – it cannot ‘get a perspective’ (FT 33). The absurd is a negative sign that something cannot be narrated from a given perspective. This makes perfect sense from the perspective of the higher (FT 261-3). As Kierkegaard writes in an unpublished reply to a review of Fear and Trembling, the paradox marks a ‘higher rationality’: ‘When I believe, then assuredly neither faith nor the context of faith is absurd. Oh, no, no – but I understand very well that for the person who does not believe, faith and the content of faith are absurd’ (FT 262 sup).

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CA The Concept of Anxiety
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
FSE For Self-Examination
JFY Judge for Yourself!
MLW The Moment and Late Writings
PoV The Point of View
R Repetition
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits
WL Works of Love

God the center of gravity

gravityRecently I’ve been thinking about what it means to say God is the “end of all desire,” the transcendental ground from which all desire rises and to which it naturally tends, even if not always consciously. The analogy of gravity came to mind.

Gravity exerts a force of attraction upon all physical bodies. We live and move within the force of its attraction. Even our “weight” is just a measure of this force of attraction. We often think of gravity as a force to escape or overcome, say, when we send ourselves skyward in rockets. But it’s as true (though less appreciated) that this force of attraction also makes all our movements possible. All the every-day movements by which we engage and enjoy the world are made without our calculating the force of gravity vis-a-vis the mass of all the bodies that occupy our world. We don’t go about our days consciously thinking about this, but we also couldn’t go about anything at all without the universal force of attraction which makes all movements possible and relates them to each other predictably.

We might think of the universal force God has upon us (upon our desiring, our meaning-making) in a similar way. God is the center of all existential gravity – the one ‘end’ (telos, purpose, ultimate object of desire) which makes possible the intentions we form upon any object of desire as such. Even when the immediate desire we settle upon tends to some selfish end, seeking to escape the force of gravity leaves us nonetheless having to deal with it, living within the possibilities its inescapable attraction makes possible. Of course, no analogy explains everything one might want to say by comparison. There are differences between the force of gravity’s attraction upon physical bodies and the force of attraction which God is to all desire. But I find the analogy helpful. God is that transcendental orientation, that universal attraction of the Good, the True, the Beautiful upon and within all the rational movements of the mind and will, making possible and fulfilling every desire (as well as defining the consequences of unfulfilled desire), for desire just is the force of divine attraction. Our existential “weight,” consequently, is just the measure of our “meaning-making” (our “desiring”) in light of God’s being our final end and highest good. Just as the force of gravity operates from some center of gravity, making possible all the movements of our bodies, so God (the Good, the True, the Beautiful) is always present as the center of attraction to which we give the name ‘desire’, making possible and fulfilling all the movements of the will.